In this week’s Eastern Edge, we’ll take a look at good fantasy players on teams that have struggled to start the season. As I write this, the bottom-five teams in the Eastern Conference are the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings. When it comes to fantasy hockey, there seems to be a stigma surrounding skaters that play for bad teams. Unless plus/minus is counted in your league (it shouldn’t be), the quality of a team shouldn’t really influence how you build your fantasy hockey roster. Sure, there’s the argument that a bad roster lacks finishing ability which can lead to limited assist totals for talented players. However, most teams have at least two or three talented players that are capable of working together to put up points. Even if a team has a powerless power play because it doesn’t have many good players, talented individuals on that team tend to see the lion’s share of ice time and manage to produce based on the volume of opportunity rather than the quality of the PP unit. Essentially, quite a few players around the league are being undervalued in fantasy formats because their teams haven’t been very good. For the purposes of this article, I won’t be discussing big name talents like Taylor Hall, Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, as most managers are familiar with the talent level of those guys.
Using our handy dandy Report Generator, we’re able to see that Chabot leads the league in ice time as he averages 26:20 a night. He also leads defensemen in power-play time as he plays with the man advantage for nearly four and a half minutes each game. Chabot is undervalued in fantasy leagues because most people accept that none of Ottawa’s forwards are capable of producing offensively. Well, Connor Brown has 12 points in 13 games and Vladislav Namestnikov has nine points in 11 games. Even on bad teams, someone has to score! It’s also encouraging to see that Chabot has been putting the puck on net a lot this season as he’s averaging three shots per game. The team’s power-play has been awful as they’ve scored on just 8.3 percent of their opportunities, but even the worst PP units of recent years were able to score on at least 13 percent of their chances, so that’s bound to improve. Chabot is currently on pace for 57 points while both his individual and 5-on-5 shooting percentages are lower than we’d expect them to be. If he stays healthy this season, I think he’s capable of breaking the 60-point barrier.
In three seasons with the Maple Leafs, the 25-year-old forward played a limited role which put a low ceiling on his offensive production. His best year came during the 2016-2017 campaign when he saw 16 minutes of ice-time each game and managed 20 goals through 82 games. In Ottawa, Brown is playing more than 20 minutes a night and has managed to register a point in 11 of the 13 contests he’s participated in. While he probably won’t finish the season as a point-per-game player, a 60-point season doesn’t seem out of the question.
After a slow start to the season that saw him manage just one point through nine games, Simmonds seems to have turned it around with five points in his last three. He’s been averaging over two hits and three shots a game, providing great value in leagues that monitor those categories. He’s on pace for 250 shots which would be a career-high total. That’s a great improvement from last season’s 157 shots that led to just 17 goals. As you might expect, he tends to score more when his shot totals are high. He had 224 shots during the 2016-2017 campaign – his most recent 30-goal season. He’s currently scoring on just 2.7% of his shots despite boasting shooting percentages closer to 14% in recent seasons. Simmonds is also seeing nearly four minutes of power-play ice-time each game, which should help boost his offensive numbers going forward. I’m still not convinced the Devils are a ‘bad’ team as they experienced a number of significant roster changes during the offseason and understandably needed some time to adjust. They’d probably have a couple more wins if Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood were able to provide better goaltending. If for some reason, other managers in your league are looking to drop their Devils, you’d be wise to make an offer for guys like P.K. Subban, Nico Hischier and even Nikita Gusev.
Considering this article is meant to highlight good fantasy players on bad NHL teams, I’d be remiss not to mention that Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha are at the forefront of underrated fantasy hockey assets. With that being said, I noticed both Larkin and Mantha have high ownership in Yahoo leagues and have received more recognition than the 53% owned Tyler Bertuzzi. The 24-year-old forward has 14 points through 16 games this year and while he might not be able to score on 18.8% of his shots all season, I think a 60-point campaign is achievable. Bertuzzi’s ice-time has been gradually increasing throughout his NHL career as he averaged nine minutes of action through seven games in 2016-2017, 14 and a half minutes through 48 games in 2017-2018, and 16.5 minutes through 73 games in 2018-2019. This year, he’s been playing 19 and a half minutes a night with three and a half minutes of power-play action. Never before has he seen so much time with the man advantage, so it should provide a nice boost to his production. As I mentioned earlier, Larkin and Mantha are really good hockey players who probably don’t get the credit they deserve because the Red Wings as a team aren’t very good right now. Bertuzzi, Larkin and Mantha are frequently deployed together as the team’s top line and tend to outshoot and outchance opponents at even-strength (via NaturalStatTrick.com).
The center position boasts such an abundance of talent in fantasy hockey, so it might not seem like a big deal that Pierre-Luc Dubois has ten points in 14 games this year. However, the fact that Dubois is matching his 60-point pace of last season despite the loss of Artemi Panarin is incredibly encouraging. Dubois is seeing a greater role on the power-play and already has three points to show for it. Again, that may not seem very impressive but it’s a huge improvement from the nine power play points he tallied through 82 games last year. Continuing that trend of improvement, he’s on pace for 210 shots this year – considerably more than the 174 he put up last season. Overall, while the fantasy value of guys like Dubois, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones may have slightly decreased as a result of Panarin’s departure, they still have a lot to offer. While the team has been struggling to score this year, they’ve also been allowing 3.57 goals per game. If Elvis Merzikins and Joonas Korpisalo were providing more reliable goaltending, maybe the Blue Jackets wouldn’t be a bottom-five team in the east.
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